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Former White House aide testifies of Ukraine call concerns, possible quid pro quo

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Image: Tim Morrison
Former top national security adviser to President Donald Trump, Tim Morrison, testified behind closed doors on Thursday.   -   Copyright  Andrew Harnik AP
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WASHINGTON — Former Trump administration official Tim Morrison told congressional investigators Thursday that he had been concerned the July 25 phone conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy would have a negative impact on both politics and policy if it were to become public, according to two sources familiar with his testimony.

The former top National Security Council adviser on Russia and Europe — who was on that call, and told investigators Thursday he thought there was "nothing illegal" about the conversation, including the president's request that Ukraine open an investigation into former vice president and 2020 rival Joe Biden — said that he was aware that the discussion, if it were ever widely known, could spark political controversy in Washington and have an adverse effect on U.S.-Ukrainian relations, according to a review of his opening statement.

And he said his own conversation several weeks after the president's July 25 call with Sondland, a Trump backer, had given him reason to believe that the release of security assistance to Ukraine might be conditioned on a public statement from Ukraine that it was reopening the Burisma probe.

Morrison, who resigned his position this week just ahead of his testimony, also said that his predecessor Fiona Hill had "warned" him about parallel diplomatic efforts to Ukraine: both the regular interagency process and one run by the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani and U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who he said were "trying to get President Zelenskiy to reopen Ukrainian investigations into Burisma." Hunter Biden, the former vice president's son, had served on that company's board.

Morrison's name appeared more than a dozen times in earlier testimony by Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who told impeachment investigators that Trump was withholding military aid unless Zelenskiy went public with a promise to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. Taylor's testimony contradicted Trump's repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo.

Taylor testified that Morrison told him he had a "sinking feeling" after learning about a September conversation Sondland had with Trump, and that Taylor himself was "alarmed" by what Morrison told him about a conversation Sondland had had with a top aide to Ukraine's president in which it appeared that "the security assistance — not just the White House meeting — was conditioned on the investigations."

Politics

Morrison confirmed "the substance" of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor's testimony as "accurate," according to two people familiar with his testimony. But he added that he had a "slightly different recollection" in one respect: Sondland, he said, had told a top aide to Ukraine's president that it "could be sufficient" if the new Ukrainian prosecutor general — not President Zelenskiy — would commit to pursue the Burisma investigation.

Morrison, an aide to former national security adviser John Bolton, said Thursday he never briefed President Trump or Vice President Mike Pence on Ukraine, and was cautious in his statements to investigators, according to a source familiar.

"I will give you the most complete information I can, consistent with my obligations to the President and the protection of classified information," he said, according to a review of his opening statement.

Morrison's testimony under subpoena came as the House formally voted to approve a set of rules governing the impeachment inquiry, which has centered on Trump's conversation with Zelinskiy and related conduct on Ukraine policy.